Austin Community Collegesummer melt

Media Monday: The challenge of summer melt

A term I hadn’t heard of before, “summer melt,” hit the news in the past week or so. The term has been around for several years, but new solutions are prompting a mini wave of new media attention. Summer melt refers to the 10 to 40 percent of students who declare when they’re tossing their high school graduation caps in the air that they are heading to college—but, when classes start in the fall, never show up.

I first ran across the term in an NPR Podcast, Hidden Brain, which focused on an innovative program at Georgia State University that uses texts to check up on students and—more important—to answer the nagging little questions that create roadblocks, especially for lower-income kids. It seems, from the NPR report and others from Houston Matters, the Texas Tribune, the New York Times, and multiple articles a couple of years ago from KUT, that it’s usually a series of many small frustrations and confusing hurdles that add up to thwart students and keep them from reaching their dreams.

What I like about most of these discussions is that they take into account the major emotional turmoil that so many kids are facing as they transition to the new, bewildering world of college. Financial challenges are the biggest category of roadblocks, but even serious money problems often can be overcome with the right mentoring, timely information, and support from family, friends, churches, and other community institutions.

Certainly new technologies—the focus of the NPR and New York Times stories—offer a lot of help. And a major study and handbook from Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research can also offer tips, especially for teachers and school counselors. But if you know young people struggling right now to get through the frustrations of July in order to step into higher ed in August and September, you might take a look at the stories of three local young people who beat summer melt a couple of years ago. Their tales are chronicled by KUT’s Kate McGee on a tumblr called “The Months Between.”

Shelley Sperry

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